What Will May of 2021 Look Like?

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It looks as if IMS officials have been given the green light to hold the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on schedule this May with fans. There are still many questions remaining, but the biggest one right now is how many?

I’ve heard ranges anywhere from 10% capacity all the way up to 75% of capacity. I think the truth is definitely somewhere in between those guesses.

From the time that this pandemic hit, which I always pinpoint as Friday March 13 – the beginning of the IndyCar opening weekend at St. Petersburg; it almost immediately became a political football. Like everyone, I have my own political opinions that I tend to keep to myself – especially on this site. I never understood why what you thought about the pandemic, defined where you stood politically. Likewise, it bewildered me that if you had certain political beliefs – why would you be expected to think a certain way about the pandemic?

If you read this site last spring or summer, you know that I tended to downplay the pandemic in favor of keeping businesses open and continuing to hold live sporting events. In today’s climate, close friendships can devolve into lifelong enemies by speaking your opinion on the pandemic. No one is allowed an opinion anymore. My beliefs were challenged respectfully on this site, and a little less diplomatically on social media. I also received some a couple of rather scathing e-mails that I think were both from the same person, but they were unsigned and the e-mail addresses were a bunch of numbers and letters. But they managed to misspell the same words the same way. If you’re going to send cowardly unsigned e-mails, at least make sure they are grammatically correct.

These two e-mails labeled me as a right-wing zeelot (I’m assuming they meant zealot). What are the odds of getting two e-mails in the same day with that spelling?

Although I certainly don’t consider myself a “zeelot”, I have always thought that there were more responsible ways of handling this virus than completely shutting down an economy, or in this case – live sporting events.

The NFL has botched a lot of things lately, but they did what the naysayers said was impossible. They got in a full season, where each team played all sixteen games – plus the playoffs. They didn’t even have to go to a bubble. Their only obstacles were in states and cities that didn’t allow attendees at sporting events. The city of San Francisco even went so far as to outlaw contact sports, so the 49ers had to finish out their “home” season in Phoenix. But if overzealous local restrictions didn’t get in the way, fans were allowed to attend football games – including the Super Bowl which featured a good sized crowd.

Fans are still wondering what an IndyCar season will look like in 2021. When we attended Road America in mid-July last year, there were no real restrictions on attendance. Fans chose whether or not they wanted to go. We chose to go and had a blast. Although overcrowding has never been a huge problem at Road America, the crowds were decidedly down, because not everyone felt comfortable being there. Consequently, it made for a very pleasant experience for those of us that did go, because lines at the concessions stands were non-existent. I don’t know how fewer people were there, but I never heard of an outbreak in southeastern Wisconsin afterwards.

Road America is my only personal point of reference, but things seemed to work there. I am hopeful that the season-opener at Barber in mid-April will be a similar experience. Overcrowding has never been a real issue there either, but they may not be able to run their free tram service that circulates the perimeter of the park.

Of course, the big question is…what will the Indianapolis 500 look like?

I think the best we can hope for is 50% capacity, much like what they planned for when the Indianapolis 500. I’m afraid that families will be forced to choose who goes and who sits at home – this time for the second year in a row.

We have four tickets in Stand A. We were guaranteed at least two of the tickets, but were allowed to request one or both of the remaining two, but you weren’t guaranteed your exact seats. We decided to give one up and requested a total of three. We received our three tickets in the mail near the end of July, which was a strange time to receive that familiar blue envelope. Our “new” seats were in the same spot where our normal seats are. I think we probably could have gotten all four, because so many people were choosing to stay away.

I’m thinking that may not be the case this year. With the COVID numbers trending down and multiple vaccines available, I think more and more people are going to feel more comfortable going to 16th and Georgetown for Memorial Day. Plus, many of us are going through withdrawal – having not been to the race in two years, by then. I suspect ticket demand is going to be extremely high, if hotel rates are any indication. Rooms seem to be outrageous compared to 2019. We have booked one place, but it is high and further out than we like. We will watch to see if rates drop, and possibly move – but for now, we are stuck out past the airport for as high price.

Some people have ten or more seats together that they have had for decades. Chances are, those people will have to make choices like they did last year. That means someone in a group or family will be forced to sit this one out.

Of course, after making all the seat reassignments and sending out new tickets, we learned less than two weeks earlier that no one would be allowed to attend the Indianapolis 500 when it finally came around on Aug 23. My small streak of eighteen consecutive races ended, but some had streaks of more than sixty races come to an end. I guess it helped that no one else was allowed to attend, but sitting at home and watching the Indianapolis 500 in August was just strange, and something I never want to repeat.

I’m also hopeful that the earlier weekends in May will have fans. Is it possible that the GMR Grand Prix can go without a limit on fans? It generally draws smaller crowds, and fans should be able to spread out throughout the property. I also hope that Qualifying Weekend will not have any limits. Two years ago, I would bet that less than 10,000 fans showed up for either day of Qualifying Weekend – although it’s hard to estimate small crowds in a venue that massive.

Racing fans have been more than patient for the past year. I feel very fortunate that we were able to attend one race in 2020, but it wasn’t enough. I can’t imagine what it is like for those that only attend the Indianapolis 500 once a year, and having it taken away from you…essentially twice last year.

The first two races of the 2021 season have already been moved back, but that was probably wise. I have no problem readjusting the schedule. It’s when multiple races are cancelled with a broad sweep, without the chance of coming back – like Barber, COTA, Long Beach, Toronto, Richmond, Portland and Laguna Seca – that gives me a headache. My hope is all races run with some fans in attendance, with minimal schedule adjustments and we get in the scheduled seventeen races.

I’m sure there are some readers of this site who still think that no races should run this year, until the virus is completely squashed. That’s fine if you do, but I think more and more people are becoming increasingly comfortable with getting out and enjoying sporting events, while still being responsible. I am hoping that this May looks a lot more familiar.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “What Will May of 2021 Look Like?”

  1. Here in the UK, the government anticipate all restrictions removed by the end of June. We’ve vaccinated [one jab] 33% of all adults [with all adults by end of July] and the figures are dropping like a stone. I and my wife work in the NHS and the hospitalisations locally are down by two thirds. We’re in lockdown at the moment but everything opens over the next months [bars on May 17th for example]. The situation seems to change rapidly so 50% for Indy looks likely in my humble opinion.

  2. I definitely feel more comfortable going now that I am fully vaccinated. I’m hoping for a 50% crowd. Indiana’s positivity rate went down to 3% yesterday. Things are hopeful.

  3. To those who think no races should be run this year I say how can you even be an IndyCar fan, or any racing fan for that matter. Those who would think the whole season should be scrapped at this point is just a troll. That doesn’t make any sense. If life gets to the point where it’s not worth living for some of these people then what’s the point of living anyway? A full IndyCar season will do a lot of of us a lot of good so bring it on.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    The way things are going, I would expect a 50% figure. I do hope there are no surprise late-coming restrictions like there were last year. That was an expensive mess and an unfortunate (and unnecessary, both on IMS and IU Health’s part) black eye for IMS.

    Lower-profile racing and sporting events have been operating with little to no crowd restrictions for some time now. I attended a sprint car race late last year that drew a capacity crowd, which I did not expect when I decided to go. Backlash to these events has been limited because of their profile, but they have involved tens of thousands of people nevertheless. I would expect that outdoor events fared better on safety than indoor ones and I’m glad they race sprint cars outdoors…

  5. James T Suel Says:

    Well I will probably be slave for my thoughts, but in my opinion, they should be at full capacity!IMS is a huge outdoor filcitily. If a person feels its dangerous, fine stay home. My work in transportation has kept me out in public and around many people in many states , large and small cities with no problems. Hopefully we get at least 50 to 75 %.

  6. Given that we completely disagreed on this topic a year ago, George, you may or may not be glad to know that I agree with your assessment this time around.

    First off, I think that a minimum of 20% to 25% capacity will be allowed. That’s generally consistent with the limits at the World Series, the Super Bowl, and Daytona, not to mention Doug Boles’s comments. There are scenarios where we run into huge problems with vaccine distribution and more virulent strains emerge, and as a result, things could be worse than they are now. But I think that’s unlikely, so 20%-25% is a reasonable lower bound.

    As for the upper bound: If we could get the vaccine into enough arms by May, and if there was sufficient evidence available at that time that vaccinated people are unlikely to transmit the virus, then we could throw open the gates and dispense with any limits. Now, I think that’s unlikely to happen by May, but we may make enough progress on both of those fronts that people are willing to take additional risks. Of course, you don’t really get social distancing at 50% of capacity–there are going to be people very close to you who aren’t in your party—but the risks of transmission are lower because it is less likely that the person who is close to you can transmit the virus to you, so it may be reasonable to relax the limits a bit. I doubt that it would go above 50%, but that’s dependent on a lot of things that haven’t happened yet.

    • Actually, I’m very glad to see that we agree. You were one of the ones I was referring to, who “respectfully challenged” me here. I have no problem when someone disagrees with me. I just have a problem with those that get emotionally outraged, when I disagree with them. Hopefully, you and I can share an adult beverage in May. – GP

      • Oh, I was speaking in jest with my introductory sentence. I know that you’re perfectly fine with someone who disagrees with you, as long as they do so in a reasonable and respectful manner. And if we can’t share an adult beverage this May, let’s plan to do it in May of 2022, and we can delve into some really contentious topics, such as why I think tenderloin sandwiches are overrated.

        Please pass my regards to Susan. I was glad to hear things went so well in Louisville.

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